Emile Zola's Dreyfus affair exile letters to be sold in Jerusalem

Emile Zola was one of the most prominent 'Dreyfusards' who defended the innocence of Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus


Three handwritten letters written by French writer Emile Zola during his unhappy exile in London - having authored an open letter in defence of Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus - are to be sold in Jerusalem.

Zola spent a brief period in London between October 1898 and June 1899, after publishing a series of articles in defence of Albert Dreyfus, an Alsatian-Jewish officer falsely accused of espionage for Germany.

The letters, to friends and contacts in the British capital, are primarily of a sundry nature – organising a meeting under his pseudonym “Pascal”, procuring a new bike, and organising for someone to meet his wife on her arrival in London.

Zola’s 1898 defence of Dreyfus’ innocence are most well-known in the denunciatory piece that he authored in French newspaper L’Aurore addressed to French President Felix Faure.

Following violent demonstrations outside Zola’s home, and being sued for libel by military and state, Zola was advised to go into exile until the end of the trial against him.

The Dreyfus affair caused an outburst of popular antisemitism in France.

The three letters will go on sale next month at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem.  

“Jewish history shows that although many came after us, we often had true friends,” says Meron Eren of Kedem.

“Emile Zola bought his name as a recognised writer in the culture of late 19th century France and despite that, he did not hesitate to point out substantial wrongdoing,” Mr Eren explained.

Dreyfus spent four years in a penal colony in French Guyana, before returned to France and being pardoned by the French President Emile Loubet.

Mr Eren added: “His letters are a kind of historical mosaic of Zola’s willingness to be true to his ethics and to stand up for Dreyfus and the Jewish people.”

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